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Taos Municipal School Historic Collection

Artist: Rebecca James
Title: The New Plant
Date: 1947
Medium: Oil painting reverse on glass
Dimensions: Overall: 15 1/4 x 19 1/4 in. (38.7 x 48.9 cm) Framed: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61 cm)
Rebecca James United States (1891-1968)
Rebecca James
Artist: Emil Bisttram
Title: Untitled
Date: 1933
Medium: Watercolor
Dimensions: Overall: 22 3/4 x 16 3/4 in. (57.8 x 42.5 cm) Framed: 35 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (90.2 x 64.8 cm)
Emil Bisttram Hungary, United States (1895-1976)
Emil Bisttram was born in Hungary, near the Romanian border, in 1895. When he was 11 years old, his family immigrated to New York City. Emil grew up in the tenement buildings that had become the destination for so many Eastern European immigrant families. He was a talented artist, and after a few years began his schooling at the National Academy of Art and Design, then Cooper Union, Parsons, and The Art Student's League. Most of his studies were completed through night courses, as he was working as a commercial artist to support himself. His eagerness to study would translate to a love of and great skill for teaching. He began teaching soon after completing school, first at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, and then at the Master Institute of the Roerich Museum.

Bisttram first visited Taos during the summer of 1930. He went initially to escape the hardship of life in New York following the stock market crash. He returned to New York and the following year won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study mural painting. The fellowship enabled Bisttram to travel to Mexico where he studied mural painting with the world famous muralist Diego Rivera. Numerous mural commissions were to follow throughout his career, including murals for the Department of Justice in Washington D.C., The Taos County Courthouse, New Mexico, and the Federal Courthouse in Roswell, New Mexico.

After finishing his studying with Rivera, Bisttram returned immediately to Taos where he founded the Taos School of Art and remained its director for the rest of his life. Bisttram came to be much admired as a teacher. He was an extremely articulate individual, and was as skilled at explaining concepts of composition, drawing and painting as he was at applying those concepts to his own paintings. The school was very well attended, particularly during the summer months. Further demonstrating his skills as an administrator, the following year Bisttram started the first commercial art gallery in Taos, the Heptagon Gallery.

Bisttram first came to Taos as a representational painter. His canvases show stylized renderings of Native American dancers, portraits of natives and Mexicans, as well as depictions of local architecture. He soon began to experiment with non-objective forms in his paintings. He became heavily influenced by the work and philosophy of the painter Wassily Kandinsky. In 1938 Bisttram, along with Raymond Johnson and several other painters, founded the Transcendental Painting Group in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The aim of the group was to work to bring painting beyond the appearance of the physical world. Bisttram continued to be extremely active in the artistic growth of New Mexico for the rest of his life. In 1952 he co-founded the Taos Art Association. In 1959, a retrospective of Bisttam's work was held at the Harwood Art Museum in Taos. As a final honor, and tribute to one who done so much for the artistic community and the identity of New Mexico as a whole, in 1975 April 7th was declared "Emil Bisttram Day," a New Mexico state holiday. The next year, 1976, Emil Bisttram died at the age of 81.
Emil Bisttram
Artist: Helen Greene Blumenschein
Title: Untitled
Date: 1952
Medium: oil
Dimensions: Overall: 15 x 22 1/4 in. (38.1 x 56.5 cm) Framed: 19 1/2 x 26 3/4 in. (49.5 x 67.9 cm)
Helen Greene Blumenschein United States (1909 - 1989)
Helen Blumenschein was the daughter of nationally famed parents, Ernest and Mary Blumenschein. In 1919 at the age of ten she was brought by her parents from New York to New Mexico, destined with them to pioneer the arts and crafts movement of Taos. Miss Blumenschein stressed that her development as an artist was devoid of parental influence other than the strong family creative atmosphere.

A lifetime deep interest in people, ecology and archaeology is evident in Miss Blumenschein’s dominant work subjects, which depict the mountainous southwest in which she lived most of her life. Her schooling included Taos Schools, The Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, New York; two years study in Paris and printmaking work at the Art Student League in New York City from 1932-36.

She exhibited prints nationally and abroad from 1936-1945 and has had prints purchased by the Carnegie in 1951, New York CityPublic Library, and the New Jersey Library. Some of her selected one-person shows of portraits include Oklahoma City ArtCenter and the New Mexico Museum of Art.

From her arrival in Taos as a small child, driven from the railroad at Raton on the Colorado border by her father, who barely made it over the steep pass, Blumenschein’s work is vital in scope and history.

Helen Greene Blumenschein
Artist: Samuel Butnik
Title: Untitled
Date: 1948
Medium: watercolor
Dimensions: Overall: 13 5/8 x 19 1/2 in. (34.6 x 49.5 cm) Framed: 23 x 28 1/4 in. (58.4 x 71.8 cm)
Samuel Butnik (1920-2004)
Samuel Butnik
Artist: Andrew Dasburg
Title: Untitled
Date: 1947
Medium: graphite
Dimensions: Overall: 10 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (27.3 x 40 cm) Framed: 18 x 23 in. (45.7 x 58.4 cm)
Andrew Dasburg United States (1887-1979)
ANDREW DASBURG (1887-1979), first visited Taos in 1918.

I really taught people to see: a sort of evangelist for modernism, because of my experience of seeing Matisse paint for most of an hour.

—Andrew Dasburg, 1975

Not only did Andrew Dasburg meet Henri Matisse, but he also discovered the work of Paul Cézanne in Paris (1909-1911) and became one of the first American artists to grasp the possibilities of modernism. Dasburg’s work was included in the famous 1913 Armory Show, and in the 1916 “Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters.” No other artist moved to Taos having already achieved a significant presence in the American art world.

During the 1920s, when Dasburg divided his time between New York and New Mexico, he painted landscapes and still lifes. He moved permanently to Taos in the 1930s but soon contracted Addison's disease, which left him too weak to produce much artwork. By 1947, he recovered sufficiently to resume his career and join the Taos Moderns. As he had done throughout his long career, Dasburg gave active encouragement to advanced art students such as Earl Stroh. He was greatly admired and respected by the Taos Moderns who, if they did not know his place in American art history before coming to Taos, soon learned of it. But Dasburg was also open to inspiration. According to Stroh, Edward Corbett’s startling white abstractions influenced both Dasburg and Thomas Benrimo to create their own essays in white.

Dasburg's gradual return to painting and drawing led to the period of his finest work, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Dasburg studied the Taos Valley until he could convey its underlying geometry with an intimate precision. In his drawing, he looked beyond the smooth, feminine forms to reveal the skeleton beneath with supreme economy of line. He painted the Taos Valley not as a mass of geometric blocks but as a vital, living thing. In the land’s visual rhythm he found harmony coming out of contrasts, an artistic perception of nature and time and also an artistic attitude.

In an address to University of New Mexico art students in 1953, Dasburg spoke of how an artist should approach the process of creation:

What is a work of art if not elevation of spirit? Something that in its best instances has the power to instill with a heightened awareness of life—both its joy and enigma. Be the theme lyrical or tragic, a great work of art is always more profound and at the same time simpler than the verbiage with which we obscure in trying to describe it. Someone is always introducing the word “problem” to replace joy, a sense of play, and mystery which is the fertile soil of art. The only problem that confronts the artist beyond his daily bread is to rid his mind of cobwebs of confused thought and to throw away the crutches of theory. Work is the mother of craft which cannot be earned as an end itself but only as servant to a guiding vision. A purpose to be achieved.

Late in life, Dasburg was honored with museum shows in Dallas, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and New York. When he died in 1979, he was the last surviving artist of the Armory Show, and the last direct link to the earliest days of American modernism.

Edited excerpt from David L. Witt, Taos Moderns: Art of the New (1992)
Andrew Dasburg
Artist: Harold Austin
Title: Untitled
Date: 1954
Medium: gouche on brown paper
Dimensions: Framed: 19 x 34 1/2 in. (48.3 x 87.6 cm)
Harold Austin (b. 1925)
Harold Austin
Artist: Les Haas
Title: Untitled
Date: 1951
Medium: oil
Dimensions: Overall: 28 x 20 in. (71.1 x 50.8 cm) Framed: 34 3/4 x 26 in. (88.3 x 66 cm)
Les Haas
Les Haas